The last time the Bengals took the field in 2020, the Baltimore Ravens rushed for 404 yards on 56 carries. Over the course of the 2020 season, the Bengals ranked among the league’s worst in defending the run, ranking 29 in rush yards per game allowed (148), 31 in yards per carry allowed (5.1). Cincy’s opposition broke 100 yards rushing in 10 of 16 games and broke 150 yards in 8 of 16 games. Unsurprisingly, the Bengals also ranked 31 in the league in rushes of 20+ yards allowed.
In the offseason, the Bengals lost their best defensive lineman when Carl Lawson signed with the Jets. They added Trey Hendrickson to shore up the pass rush, and acquired BJ Hill from the Giants last week to add another DT to the mix. They’ll also bring back DJ Reader, who was acquired last offseason from Houston as a splashy acquisition to bolster the run defense. Reader spent a majority of training camp rehabbing the quad injury that forced him to miss the final 11 games of the season.
The maligned Bengals’ defensive line will be facing Dalvin Cook and the Vikings offense in the home opener. Dalvin Cook accounted for 68% of the Vikings’ offensive rushing production in 2020, and only Derrick Henry had more carries than Cook’s 312 with 378 of his own.
Combine Cook’s share of Minnesota’s offensive output with their heavy dependence on the run game (46% in 2020, 6th in NFL) to set up play action and Cincinnati’s lack of personnel to slow down Minnesota’s preferred method of attack, and Cook is slated to have a massive game in the opener on the road.
Because the Vikings play so much 12 personnel due to their preference for running the ball, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen caught a combined 59% of Kirk Cousins’ 4,200+ passing yards, as they are consistently the only two receivers on the field. With TE Kyle Rudolph gone to the Giants and Irv Smith Jr. slated to miss the first portion of the season, expect Jefferson and Thielen to have big days as well against a suspect secondary that will be missing its top corner in Trey Waynes on Sunday. Eli Apple and Chidobe Awuzie will start for Cincy – Apple appeared in 2 games and started zero for Carolina a year ago, while Chidobe Awuzie was part of the Cowboys’ secondary that formed one of the worst units at any level in all of football last year.